Public Papers

Remarks at a Ceremony Commemorating Captive Nations Week


The President. Thank you very much, and welcome -- welcome to the Rose Garden. And a special welcome to some of our guests -- to all of you -- but to some special guests today. Of course, I'm very pleased the Vice President is with me for this special occasion; Secretary Derwinski over here, who's been a leader in all of this for many, many years; and of course, our Deputy Secretary, Larry Eagleburger -- Deputy Secretary of State; and Dick Carlson, the head of the Voice. And so many of our friends from Congress, welcome to all of you. And a special, again, salute and welcome to all of you who have been in the forefront of the captive nations cause for so many years.

You know, for the last 32 years, Presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan have commemorated the ongoing struggle of captive nations. And traditionally, this one has been the ceremony to commemorate the ongoing struggle of these nations, to bear witness to the suffering of millions -- a ceremony to honor courage, a ceremony to tell everyone still in captivity that they are not forgotten. These previous captive nations ceremonies have not been moments of joy but really, rather, of serious rededication and sadness that so many in our world lived in the throes of tyranny.

The Revolution of 1989 was stunning -- thrilling, clearly a historic time. And at this ceremony last year, we told the world that we would keep faith with those who were oppressed; and we did. And then taking their lives into their own hands, the very people who are in our hearts crafted an unforgettable year of triumph -- the triumph of brave hearts, the triumph of people declaring they would control their own destinies. And last summer while we were in Eastern Europe, Barbara and I sensed that excitement in the air, that some of you here had been telling me about. In meetings with the people of Poland and Hungary, I pledged America's strong support for their historic struggle. And like most Americans, we watched in joy as the barbed wire on that Austrian-Hungarian border came down. And we were deeply moved as the changes swept across the continent bringing within reach the vision of a Europe truly whole and free.

For four long decades, America and her allies have remained united and strong in our mission for peace and freedom. That strength has at long last borne some fruit. What an amazing year this has been -- a year of technicolor glory in lands that had been defined by these black watchtowers and walls, and the drab emptiness of lost dreams.

But we are gathered here today not just to celebrate the joyous change of this past year but to celebrate it in a very special way. With us today are some of the young people whose countries were a part of this Revolution of '89. And each is proud of his country. And it's easy to understand why they believe in themselves and in their homelands. For the bold and brilliant light of freedom now illuminates their world. And so, to honor that shining faith in the future, I dedicate this day to this new generation of freedom and to future generations who will never have to bear the burden of tyranny. For some of this new generation this freedom means a whole new world in their own backyard. On that unforgettable morning when the East German borders fell, parents gathered up their kids and brought them to the Brandenburg Gate, the final symbol of tyranny in Berlin. And still in their pajamas, these children on this day of new freedom were passed up from friendly hand to friendly hand to have the thrill of sitting on top of the wall, looking across at the endless horizon of their dreams. And now, a new generation is coming of age in freedom.

Inÿ7Eÿ7E theÿ7Eÿ7E audienceÿ7Eÿ7E todayÿ7Eÿ7E isÿ7Eÿ7E aÿ7Eÿ7E groupÿ7Eÿ7E of young interns from Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Supported by funding from private American organizations, they are spending the summer working and learning in our great country. And one is working with the speaker of North Carolina's House of Delegates, another with a television station in Washington, another with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And they are here learning how a free society works and will return to build a free Poland, a free Hungary, a free Czechoslovakia.

But while we celebrate for those who are now free, we must also remember those who are not. And I continue to be moved by what I see and hear throughout the rest of the world where unfinished revolutions continue, one heroic story at a time. In the Americas, where a boy with nothing but a board and sail windsurfed to escape the politics of repression. In Asia, where iron tanks were met by the iron will of a courageous lone man. And today, I also want to remember especially the people of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and renew our unflagging support for their long quest for national self-determination. The road ahead is going to be difficult. But we can now join them in looking forward with hope to the day when their long-cherished dreams will become reality.

Alongside this success story of nations, we also hear quiet stories of individuals who, even in darkness, could see the vision of liberty; those who have risked everything in countries not yet free -- the countries we must still remember today; the desperate people we must never forget, boys like Quang Trinh, a young Vietnamese teenager. He almost died escaping from the shattered life of a country where he had seen his mother killed, his father jailed, his brother's spirits broken. Quang fled the only life he had known for freedom. And he jumped into shark-infested waters for freedom. And he starved in delirium for freedom. And after he was finally rescued and told he could enter the United States, he wept all night long.

When did something touch our lives so completely that we cried for joy through the entire night? Quang calls America ``freedom country.'' And how many of us have stopped to think of our homeland in those terms? You know, on my desk inside there in the Oval Office, I have two special mementos with me at all times. One is a small American flag, given to me in an army hospital by a soldier wounded while fighting to free our friends in Panama. It represents America's commitment to freedom and to proud people wherever they may be who seek that freedom. And the other souvenir is a piece of the Berlin Wall, one of the very first chiseled from that horrifying affront to humanity. I keep it as a reminder of the miracle which courage, strength, and unity can achieve. It's sitting right here. And I also wanted to bring with me today this piece of barbed wire which I brought to last year's ceremony -- some of you may remember. It came from the Austria-Hungary border. And these two symbols of tyranny should never be forgotten.

Sitting in this peaceful Rose Garden today are several generations of these nations of miracles, including the new generation. But there are also countries that are still waiting to be free. So let us all work together so that next year this dream of freedom extends to all those countries where it is now denied. Let us pray together that the light of liberty will shine across our entire planet and that the next Captive Nations Week will be the last. Thank you all for coming here, and God bless you for your steadfast commitment to freedom around the world. Thank you all very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:35 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Edward J. Derwinski and Richard W. Carlson, Associate Director for the Voice of America.